Historical-fictional novel of ancient life
December 20, 2011 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a historical-fictional novel of either pre-Roman classical antiquity (Crete, Thebes, Sparta, Athens, etc.), the Celtic people (either before or during Roman conquest), Sumer, or Ancient Egypt. [Details inside!]

Ideally what I have in mind is a novel similar to Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine. There were two aspects to this novel that I valued and am seeking in some degree to find in other works.

(1) It was a, somewhat, historical-fictional look at life of an Athenian.
(2) Its portrayal, for whatever its historical accuracy, of a pederastic/same-sex union relationship.

Ideally, I'd like to see the same treatment of a historical-fictional account of a male-male relationship done for Crete, Thebes, Sparta, or anywhere else, including Athens, again.

That being said, I am also interested in more general historical-fictional accounts (which of course don't have to feature such a male-male relationship) for pre-Roman classical antiquity, Sumer, Ancient Egypt, and the Celtic people (either before or during Roman conquest).

posted by SollosQ to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I just started reading the Boudica trilogy (actually I think it's four books now), about a Celtic warrior queen during the Roman conquest of Britain. There are a number of same-sex relationships as well as opposite-sex relationships
posted by olinerd at 6:46 PM on December 20, 2011

Well, it doesn't have any male-male, but I love this period of historical fiction, and I loved, and you might like, Goatsong, and the sequel, The Walled Orchard. There isn't any negative-to-male-male in the book, at least, in fact he kind of is sweet about it, because the protagonist is kind of ugly and is a little sad that no one ever was interested in him at the baths or so on...
posted by The otter lady at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also I assume you've checked out Renault's other works, like the one about Alexander the Great told from the view of his lover/eunuch?
posted by The otter lady at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Steven pressfield has some really good historical novels for pre roman greek city states. Not too much of the sexual aspect, he focuses on the military and social-political setting but i enjoyed them greatly.
posted by bartonlong at 7:11 PM on December 20, 2011

Well, the only novel in this vein that I can directly recall reading is Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, which is about the Spartans at Thermopylae. I believe there was a bit of bumming in it but it was mostly about stabbing things with long rigid objects.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2011

Pressfield's Gates of Fire is one of my "go-to" recommendations for anyone looking for a good historical fiction set in ancient Greek city states. Just as Tom Holland's Rubicon is my go-to for Ancient Rome. Though more historical than historical fiction-y, Holland's prose really is very engaging and easily scratches the "good historical fiction" itch.

Favoriting this thread and will be excited to see what others recommend!
posted by darkstar at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2011

These are YA and very old indeed, but many of Rosemary Sutcliff's books are really great evocations of pre Roman Britain. I loved them as a kid and have reread several as an adult: they hold up well. For more Celtic background, I'm a bit more hesitant to recommend Morgan Llywelyn - she kind of drives me crazy - but many people really like her and Druids, in particular, might be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2011

Jo Graham's Numinous World series has some of what you're looking for. The first book, Black Ships, is essentially a retelling of the Aeneid from the point of view of the Sybil, and puts a lot of focus on what's left of the Trojan people putting their lives back together. The later books in the series follow new "incarnations" of Black Ships characters in different periods of history: Hand of Isis follows Cleopatra and her half-sisters, and Stealing Fire follows a former soldier in Alexander's army as he serves under Ptolemy in Alexandria. Stealing Fire features a male/male relationship, with some Alexander/Hephaestion and Alexander/Bagoas in flashbacks and references. You can just read Stealing Fire on its own and not really miss out in terms of missing plot developments.

The books are historical fantasy, in terms of the gods being real and influencing things and the reincarnations, but Graham pays a lot of attention to historical detail, and the novels' conflicts are grounded in history and character.
posted by yasaman at 8:45 PM on December 20, 2011

Gillian Bradshaw has written a number of books set in the Roman empire at various points in its history.
posted by MadamM at 8:53 PM on December 20, 2011

Jack Whyte wrote an excellent historical series set in this period (but I don't recall any sexuality covered in it)

Otoh, I'm reading SM Stirling's Island in the sea of time trilogy set in 1200 BC or so and its chockfull of sex positive characters of all stripes

The Boudicca series as mentioned by Olinerd above are also a good read
posted by infini at 9:56 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd like to strongly second Island in the Sea of Time. Though it is alternate history, rather than historical fiction, and the featured same-sex relationship is female-female, it was such an amazing adventure that I feel nostalgic for the 13th Century BC just thinking about it.
posted by General Tonic at 7:21 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time strongly features Celts (or proto-Celts) in the first book, and gets into Babylon/Assyria and Hatti/Wilusa in the second and third.
posted by General Tonic at 7:33 AM on December 21, 2011

I'll recommend Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy. He sets his Arthur in the post-Roman period, trying to stem the tide of Angles and Saxons overwhelming the Britons. Corwell removes a lot (but not all) of the medieval additions and a significant chunk of the novels are around the dynamic of the erosion of Druidic and imported pagan (e.g. Mithraic) traditions in the face of a dominant and hostile Christianity.
posted by rodgerd at 10:26 AM on December 22, 2011

Speaking of Cornwell, his Stonehenge is pretty good. A historical fiction treatment of the Celts who designed and built the eponymous edifice.
posted by darkstar at 7:17 PM on December 25, 2011

(Er, to be accurate, Stonehenge far preceded -- by several centuries -- the Celts' arrival in Britain, of course.)
posted by darkstar at 7:19 PM on December 25, 2011

Sarum by Edward Rutherford
posted by infini at 10:54 PM on December 25, 2011

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